x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pole Position: Cost of tyres can be obstruction to racing drivers

In terms of amateur racers' budgets, tyres can easily account for 50 per cent of running costs and, hence, has a massive impact on their ability to go racing.

When Fred Flintstone invented the wheel he would have had no idea that it would generate a global tyre industry with annual sales of hundreds of billions of US dollars, employing more than half a million people.

Selling expensive black round things that all look the same and do the same job must be one of the biggest marketing challenges going. The top 10 tyre manufacturers all take the same approach; by attaching their brand to something dynamic and interesting - motorsport.

They do this through "partnerships" with the commercial rights holders of the various race, bike and rally championships. The big names - Pirelli, Bridgestone and Goodyear, among others - pay a huge amount of money to benefit from association with top-end events such as Formula One, MotoGP and Nascar. But they are seeing fierce competition from some of the less-well-know names in the industry.

Korean manufacturers Hankook and Kumho sponsor DTM and F3 Euroseries respectively. Dunlop, which has a long history of supplying the top motorcycle championships and is partnered with Moto 2 and Moto 3, is the official supplier to Australian V8 Supercars. Yokohama provides all the tyres for the World Touring Car Championship.

In terms of amateur racers' budgets, tyres can easily account for 50 per cent of running costs and, hence, has a massive impact on their ability to go racing. Trust me, this is a hot topic of conversation with racers visiting our raceshop, particularly as we approach another race season.

There is a tendency to assume that all circuit racers use expensive and relatively short-life "slick" racing tyres. While that will be true of high-end motor racing cars, especially those that take advantage of aerodynamics, they are not such a great idea for those racing on limited budgets. Many amateur saloon car championships mandate a treaded or semi-slick control tyre because they are cheaper, more durable and, crucially, help keep costs down.

I am not talking about insignificant amounts of money. A set of slick racing tyres for the UAE's National race series typically costs anywhere from Dh5,000 to Dh7,000, depending on tyre size. Even if you are extremely careful and manage to use just one set for testing, qualifying and racing at each event, your minimum budget for the season needs to be about Dh50,000.

In many championships, a tyre supply deal is arranged to mandate a "control tyre" to provide a level playing field for competitors.

As a result of tyre sponsorship agreements, competitors can purchase their tyres at preferential market rates, the tyre company benefits from positive publicity and the spectators see close racing - so everyone is a winner.

In some cases, the company supplying the control tyre is simply a supplier, not a sponsor. For example, visit the FIA Formula Two website and you will find it almost impossible to discover who the tyre supplier is.

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.